JESSICA JANN INVITES MIKKI YAO TO KYO-SHUN.
Top model Mikki Yao has made quite a name for herself across Asia, gracing numerous magazine covers, endless editorials and sashaying her way across the runway for the crème de la crème of designers. As she enters exquisite Japanese fine dining restaurant Kyo-Shun for our lunch date, she looks fresh and beautiful – stylish yet simple, with hardly any makeup – in a leather jacket and slimming black jeans; she beams and sweetly introduces herself. For a model of her stature, she’s open, warm and genuine. I learn that she loves to eat (like me), is Shanghainese (like me) and writes her own fashion/lifestyle blog (like me – except mine is about food).
Jess: You look in incredible shape. Do you have any secrets to keeping your slim figure?
Mikki: Ha! I love to eat actually. I’m pretty lucky, because my body type is actually very good [for a model] – it’s harder for me to gain weight, though trust me I still do and can pile on the pounds! For example, if I go on a trip I make sure to enjoy myself and eat everything. After I come back, I’ll have gained four or five pounds, my face becomes bigger; it’s noticeable. I started doing yoga more than two months ago to try to keep slim. There’s a difference between being ‘skinny’ and ‘fit slim’. I want to have firm muscles, more definition and a better figure. I do yoga at least twice a week and some additional cardio throughout the week.
Jess: Sounds like a great mentality. What’s your typical diet as a model?
Mikki: My breakfast and lunch typically become mixed together. My call time for work is usually very early, so I might skip breakfast. If I don’t have work, then I’ll try and sleep in, have brunch and relax with friends. I definitely eat lunch. Actually I really like instant noodles! At dinner, I like having lots of different choices, so I don’t usually eat too much Western food. Chinese food is great – I can order a lot and share it with others.
Jess: How did you become a model?
Mikki: At school, I didn’t ever think I’d model. I was living in Shanghai and took up ballet for three years. It was good for me – it fixed a lot of my bad habits like biting my nails and bad posture. Then one summer, when I was 16, my mother saw in the newspaper that they were looking for a model and if you were accepted all the costs would be waived. She told me to try it, so I thought, why not! Within the first few days, an agency wanted to sign me. Of course I was still at school, so I did modelling part time.
Jess: How did you end up in Hong Kong?
Mikki: I came here to work for a few months and really enjoyed it. That was in 2001, and I came back on and off until I decided to relocate and pursue modelling full time in Hong Kong in 2005.
Jess: What would you say is the most difficult thing about modelling?
Mikki: Oh gosh, there are tons of things. High heels are difficult, also if you don’t know how to put makeup on. Once you start in this industry, you want to be your best. Of course, as with every job, you have to start from the bottom and slowly move up and gain more experience. Modelling can be really tough. Your appearance is very important – you have to be the right height, right build, have the right style, right look and right personality. But I would just say, be you!
Jess: What would be your advice to aspiring models?
Mikki: It’s a tough business. For high fashion or catwalk modelling, you first have to ask yourself: are you five-foot 10? Because if not, you can’t do high fashion and your confidence will be shaken if the other girls can. You just have to know who you are and see how it goes.
Jess: What’s the best tip you’ve ever been given?
Mikki: Right before I moved to Hong Kong, a famous Shanghai artist said to me, “Your character can make your destiny”. Everything you do, you have to do with character, personality and just be yourself.
Jess: Even today, you’re so fashionably dressed. Do you have a style icon?
Mikki: Thanks for thinking I’m fashionable! I don’t have any style icons. I think every person has good and bad looks. Being comfortable is so important. Personally, my outfits aren’t too girly; there’s not too much lace or crystal.
Jess: Any fashion/style tips? What are your go-to outfits?
Mikki: I dress pretty casually. I have 30 or 40 white T-shirts; I think they’re really classic when paired with jeans. I don’t have too many colours in my wardrobe, mostly grey, black, navy or neutral. My go-to shoes are flats, for sure. Heels put you in a different mode and mood, and they’re more for a date-night look.
Jess: Do you cook? What are your favourite restaurants?
Mikki: I can cook a very big meal actually. My mother taught me a lot of Shanghainese dishes, like sweet and sour pork. I like cooking, because you know what you’re getting and it’s all fresh and natural ingredients. I do eat out, though. I like simpler, casual places. Tai Hang has some great Chinese hotpot restaurants – there’s one that serves this really amazing dish with steamed egg and meat over rice – or I go to Triple O’s for their fish burger, and Tsui Wah for the pork and pineapple buns.
Jess: How do you relax?
Mikki: I’m a big homebody. I like stay at home and spend time with my cat . . . [laughs]. I might have two or three friends over or go out for high tea or brunch.
Jess: What are your short-term plans?
Mikki: To focus on modelling. I also write blogs for some Chinese magazines on modelling, makeup tips, lifestyle tips, fashion ideas – anything that pops up. I find it interesting and hopefully I can give people tips or ideas that might help them better themselves.
Jess: That’s awesome! I have a food blog too; it really is fun and rewarding. Do you have any goals for the future?
Mikki: I try not to think too much or too far ahead. A lot of my work is confirmed at the last minute, so my life is constantly changing. You never know what will happen. I just like to take whatever opportunities come along.
MIKKI YAO’S Faves
Cuisine: Japanese [good thing we ate at Kyo-Shun], especially fatty salmon, toro and sea urchin sashimi
Dessert: Tangyuan [glutinous rice balls]
Snack: I’m definitely into meals rather than snacking. Maybe chips [crisps]
Drink: Iced lemon tea
Travel destination: A place I can learn from, somewhere with history
TV show: Korean dramas and Revenge
Film: The old school classic The Monkey King. I like cartoons too.
Place in Hong Kong: Home
Tsimshatsui’s newest Japanese fine dining restaurant, Kyo-Shun, is one of three establishments launched by actress Carina Lau on the 18th floor of The One; it’s alongside Spanish contemporary restaurant Zurriola and tapas group hangout Tapagria. The atmosphere is spacious, bright and relaxing and there is an amazing view of Hong Kong island. Floor-to-ceiling windows line the traditional yet modern Kyoto-themed dining space. There’s a long open grilling station to wow hungry diners, as well as a private room, main dining room with warm, rich timber plank flooring, and bar area.
We dine on their signature teppanyaki lunch set that sets you back $348 per person – a steal for what you get. Each dish lights up the room with its presentation while satisfying every taste bud. The charcoal-grilled wagyu beef salad is absolutely beautifully presented and the pieces of beef are soft, delicate and tender. The foie gras and abalone are cooked and served before our very eyes and are both delightfully fragrant, buttery soft and with the perfect amount of fat and marbling. The aromatic fried rice serves as a nice palate cleanser, and last but not least comes the restaurant’s signature simmering hot bowls of softened bean curd in a fresh soup broth.
The verdict: At Kyo-Shun the ingredients are fresh, the food is delicious and the atmosphere is splendid. Mikki and I both enjoyed our flavourful, light and authentic Japanese lunch. I can’t wait to come back and try the sashimi platters and other teppanyaki delights!
Kyo-Shun, 18/F, The One, 100 Nathan Road, Tsimshatsui, tel: 2426 6111
Model, actress and foodie Jessica Jann hails from sunny California where she majored in theatre and business at Irvine. She made her screen debut in Lethal Weapon 4 at age eight. Now living in Hong Kong, she’s signed to Bullet Films. Follow her food journey at www.eatwithjess.com and in this column as she takes supermodels out for lunch.